NASCAR trailblazer aiming to make Xfinity Series debut

Armani Williams has competed in various NASCAR series for the last eight years. Now the sport's first autistic driver is aiming to move up the ladder.
Armani Williams, NASCAR Truck Series
Armani Williams, NASCAR Truck Series / James Gilbert/GettyImages

Armani Williams is trying to do more than just drive race cars whenever he gets the opportunity to take part in a NASCAR event.

The 24-year-old Grosse Pointe, Michigan native has competed in the sport on some level since 2017, competing in select races across various series each year. So far this season, he has competed at Daytona International Speedway, doing so in the ARCA Menards Series season opener for MBM Motorsports.

Williams is the sport's first NASCAR driver openly diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and in a separate article, he discussed what that means in terms of his career and how he can use his own achievements to encourage others.

Strictly on the racing side, Williams remains as determined as ever to eventually go from part-time driver to full-time driver, and in his eighth season competing in the sport, he believes that he is on the verge of doing something he has never done: competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the national series right below the top-tier Cup Series.

Williams has competed in the Truck Series for three years, and in addition to the ARCA Menards Series, he has also competed in K&N Pro Series East, K&N Pro Series West, and Pinty's Series. But he has never made the jump to NASCAR's second highest level.

That could change in a couple weeks.

"Right now, it's a little tough, because I'm a part-time driver," Williams told Beyond the Flag when asked about his upcoming schedule, noting that nothing has been confirmed. "I’d like to someday be a full-time race car driver. But as far as my upcoming schedule, there's a big possibility that I'll be running at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.

"I've been planning on trying to make my move up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and so we're looking at tracks where I can make my first start in the series. New Hampshire seems like a big possibility, and then we're looking into races like Michigan, possibly Pocono, and then toward the end of the year at Phoenix."

The Xfinity Series is set to run the SciAps 200 at the four-turn, 1.058-mile (1.703-kilometer) "Magic Mile" oval in The Granite State on Saturday, June 22, which is right around the corner.

"There are a lot of options we're looking at, but right now, I say New Hampshire will possibly be my next race," he said. "There's a big possibility of that."

When Williams isn't competing on the race track, he still keeps up on the action. However, he admits that watching races as a race car driver isn't always easy.

"Oh yeah, all the time," he said. "Whether that's the NASCAR Truck Series, the Xfinity Series, or the NASCAR Cup Series, I try to watch it as constantly as possible whenever it's on, even though it might make me a little bit deterred, because I know I could be the one out there with those guys as well, so sometimes it's a little hard to watch it back at home."

That feeling only further fuels his desire to improve.

"At the same time, you can't lose sight of that," he continued. "You just got to continue to put your head down, keep working and grinding, so that way you can be at the race track as many times as you want to – as well as get on television as many times as you can, because that's what it's all about right there!"

Though Williams has competed in NASCAR for the last several years, the various NASCAR series aren't the only series he follows. He has always followed the Indy 500, but his interest in IndyCar as a whole began to take off when Jimmie Johnson, his all-time favorite NASCAR driver, competed in the series for two years.

"It's not just NASCAR," he admitted. "I like to watch a little bit of IndyCar. They tend to put out some great racing from time to time, and before, I wouldn't watch too much of IndyCar outside of the Indy 500 throughout the month of May, but my favorite driver, Jimmie Johnson, tried out IndyCar for a little bit.

He also watches a bit of Formula 1.

"Ever since that time, I've started to watch IndyCar a lot, as well as watch Formula 1 a little bit, particularly the Monaco Grand Prix," he said. "In F1, that's the equivalent of IndyCar’s Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Daytona 500. It's the biggest race they run all year, so whenever a race like that comes up, I like to watch F1 a little bit, just to see what happens. I try to follow everything in the motorsports world."

But as much as he enjoys watching various forms of motorsport, his goal for the rest of the season is to do a lot more driving, taking advantage of every opportunity that comes his way on the NASCAR side.

"Where I am in my career, obviously, and I know I already mentioned this, but I'll mention it again, is that I want to someday be a full-time race car driver in one of NASCAR's top three levels," he said.

"If it's Trucks, so be it, if it's Xfinity, so be it, and heck, if I can move my way up the ladder into the ultimate NASCAR Cup Series and be a full-time driver there, that'd be fantastic, but either way, I want to be a full-time race car driver in any one of the top three NASCAR series.

"As far as this year, the goal really is to have me go out there and run as many races as I can to continue to get my name out there, to get that valuable seat time and experience, to continue to better myself as a race car driver, and to continue to go out there and be competitive at a high level in every race that I get into. In any opportunity or chance, I try to win it, if we have the opportunity to do so.

But regardless of where or when or in what series he ends up competing, Williams wants to continue to be a shining light to youngsters dealing with autism so that they know that they too can achieve their dreams.

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"Lastly, it's just for throughout rest of my career, and I know I have probably already done it, but I just want to continue to be that role model, that inspiration, to the millions of individuals, families, and kids who have been impacted by autism, just to help continue to bring out those positive messages and give them a positive influence, to help give them hope and confidence."